Some time ago, Amartya Sen found himself much alarmed by the increasing popularity of Ram Navami festival in West Bengal. So he apparently went to his four-year-old granddaughter and asked who her favourite deity was. Maa Durga, the child replied. And that’s when Dr. Sen arrived at his profound realization: Maa Durga is part of the culture of Bengal, Shri Ram is not. This is what he preached last year from a pulpit at Jadavpur University.
Those who are trying to draw partition lines between Maa Durga and Shri Ram have come to teach us about the idea of India. And the idea of Bengal, which according to them, may or may not be part of the larger idea of India. Let that sink in.
In fact, Durga Puja is known as Akaal Bodhon (out of season worship) in Bengal. This refers to Shri Ram needing to leave for Lanka, before which he had to invoke the goddess Durga out of season. For the Ashtami puja, Shri Ram prepared to worship the goddess with 108 blue lotuses. But the goddess steals one lotus, trying to test his devotion. Distraught at finding just 107 blue lotuses, Shri Ram gets ready to take out one of his eyes as the missing offering.
And yet there are people like Amartya Sen who are trying to separate Durga from Ram.
But leave that aside for a moment. What is Amartya Sen trying to say here? That the culture of Bengal is defined by the cultural practices of his family? Anyone who practices anything slightly different is an outsider? Is this not the textbook definition of xenophobia? And where are the hordes of liberals who lecture all day about tolerance and diversity? Does Amartya Sen’s xenophobia get a pass because he is not a fan of the BJP?
Of course it does. Right now, “good xenophobia,” re-branded as regional pride, is the main campaign plank of liberals as Bengal gets ready for Assembly elections in May 2021. Today, Amartya Sen is back; this time saying that people of Bengal cannot be worthy heirs of Tagore unless they support his beloved ‘secular’ parties.
Yes, the same ‘secular’ parties which gladly gave away two-thirds of Bengal to Pakistan. That is why the remainder is called West Bengal, remember? What about East Bengal? What happened there to the great Bengali tradition of worshiping Maa Durga? The great Bhadralok intellectuals like Amartya Sen rarely ever speak on this. All they care about is tearing West Bengal out of the larger Hindu fabric of India. We know exactly what happens when this fabric tears. They say that in 30 years, there won’t be any Hindus left in Bangladesh.
You will observe that folks like Amartya Sen are obsessed with things like who is the ‘heir’ to what, which implies a fascination with royalty. Indeed, like any court intellectual, Sen has an easily foldable ego that allows him to grovel before kings and queens. When in England, he insists that only Christian faith schools are acceptable. No question of secularism there. You must follow the religion of her majesty the queen of England. He had a chance meeting with Rahul Gandhi and decided almost immediately that the latter would make a great Prime Minister. Rahul was a prince, after all. Amartya Sen has a natural reverence for that.
This is in contrast to Amartya Sen’s contempt for the people and their verdict. When PM Modi was elected in 2014, Amartya Sen sneered that he would “allow” Modi to rule. Yes indeed. Seventeen crore people voted for BJP in 2014, but it is Amartya Sen, India’s emperor apparent, who gets to “allow” Modi to rule. He even added a rider: “allow” him to rule in a democratic way. Again, teaching democracy to the man who just won seventeen crore votes. And groveling before the queen of England and her religion. That’s Amartya Sen for you.
When somebody tries to criticize Amartya Sen, there is an unsaid counter-argument that comes up. Did you win a Nobel? Then, how dare you criticize someone who did? Now, Amartya Sen is too clever to call himself a Marxist, but he has admitted to engaging seriously with Marxism all his life. You might have observed that no biologist today engages seriously with creationism. No physicist today engages seriously with flat earth theories. When Amartya Sen’s competence was put to test in the real world, he achieved nothing at Nalanda University. Exactly like Marxism has achieved nothing in the real world. So a flop in the real world and a world renowned expert while engaging with failed theories. There is no doubt that Sen is an “intellectual.”